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November 30, 2004

PBS Uses Sun Rays for Pledge Collection

Watched a show on PBS this evening that was interrupted several times with pleas to pledge. During the pledge segments there were a few shots of people taking pledges and entering them into the computer, which happened to be Sun Rays.

I first played with a Sun Ray this past week on a tour of Pete's office and data center at the Utah Educational Network. I can see how, in some scenarios, the Sun Ray might make sense, the smart card is pretty nifty for moving between machines.

Posted by mike at 10:02 PM

Wal-Mart is a Bully with RFID

I was reading Phil's comments on the CIO feature article, RFID - Tag, you're Late and got to thinking that although it's interesting to see how Wal-Mart is driving RFID forward, the section that stood out most to me in the article was about how Wal-Mart treats it's suppliers:

Wal-Mart's announcement in June 2003 of the January 2005 deadline caught many in the supplier community off guard. Some didn't even know what RFID stood for; others dismissed the announcement as grandstanding.

So when Wal-Mart invited the top 100 suppliers to Bentonville in November 2003 for more specifics about its RFID master plan, there was speculation among suppliers and business journalists that Wal-Mart would back off the deadline.

That didn't happen.

During the presentation, Wal-Mart executives defined what the EPC would be, what class of chips they would accept and which three distribution centers would start accepting RFID deliveries. The suppliers, according to one participant, listened in stunned silence. As he recalled, it was like attending a session on nuclear physics.

Yet there were few questions, and "they were just for clarification," says the supply chain executive, who attended the session. "There was no pushback."

Wal-Mart then reaffirmed its deadline and announced it would not give any price breaks to suppliers who complied. "And no one raised their hand and said, Excuse me?" recalls the supply chain executive.

This sounds like a company who is asking suppliers to grovel and try to appease the master enough to not fall under it's wrath and be cut out.

I've disliked Wal-Mart for some time . . . this doesn't help.

Posted by mike at 8:02 PM

November 29, 2004

Kruckenberg Webserver Upgrade

I guess I forgot to say we finished. Pete and I worked last Wednesday on replacing a single IDE drive with a pair of 10K SCSI drives (RAID 1). I did the physical work (opening the box, sticking in the drives, rebooting etc), Pete did the BIOS, RAID, GRUB config and data transfer. The photo is a shot of the machine with the SCSI drives installed with the IDE still intact while Pete dumped the data. The cabling was a little tight.

Would have been interesting to have some pre and post benchmarks, not enough time. I'm sure it's faster, would have been kinda cool to know how much. in any case, redundancy was probably more important than the speed of SCSI.

Posted by mike at 8:23 PM

November 24, 2004

Kruckenberg Web Machine Going Down for Upgrade

Which means this entry won't be up for long before it's pointless to have it up.

At Pete's for Thanksgiving and are finally getting around to upgrading the machine that handles web traffic from one IDE drive to a set of 10K SCSI drives with RAID. Should be a bit of a boost in performance for I/O activities and some peace of mind in having failover on the hard drives.

Posted by mike at 1:12 PM

November 23, 2004

From Treo 600

Posting from Pete's Treo 600. This device is awesome, wondering how I could convince Tufts to get one of these for me.

Posted by mike at 5:15 PM

November 20, 2004

The Things We'll Do for a Good Connection

Down in Rhode Island for the weekend, Heidi had a few meetings so I took the day off and brought the kids down.

The Holiday Inn Express in Warwick is pretty nice (strictly speaking of the indside, Warwick itself is a bit industrial for my taste), but the wifi is a bit spotty. In fact, when i was looking for a place to eat I found that the best wifi connection was 6' off the ground near the front door of the room. Request a page and then hold the laptop up in homage to the wifi God and beg for a successful page load.

I've since discovered that if I sit in the chair near the bathroom door and face sideways I can get respectable signal, but my neck, arms and body are telling me it might not be worth it.

Posted by mike at 12:48 AM

November 18, 2004

No more Gentoo

In a matter of two weeks I've abandoned both my gentoo installations.

Scenario 1

Boston University is installing the TUSK software and as a part of helping them I've wanted to start from scratch. BU has it's own Linux distribution, but it's based on Fedora Core 2. The logical choice was for me to do a base FC2 installation and then document the process of installing the necessary applications and libraries and doing a config of our code (which has led to some good improvements in our source).

Not only did it makes sense to install FC2 because it was closer to what BU is using, it also makes it simple to wipe the machine and start over (without having to ghost a Gentoo install). In 30 minutes I can reformat the hard drive and have a fresh install of Fedora ready, which enabled me to practice the TUSK installation several times.

Scenario 2

This morning I get a report from the security team (part of NOC) that one of our machines is doing portscans and most likely has been comprimised. Sure enough . . . I had let a bunch of stuff lapse on the machine and someone got to it. Fortunately it is our internal documentation (twiki) server. There's a lot of valuable information there but at least it's not production, and it's not connected in any way to ourr production environment.

While I could spend a few days to rebuild Gentoo, I had Fedora Core 3 sitting on my desktop. People are anxious to be able to use the machine again so it made more sense to do the 45-minute install and be done with it.

I'm a strong believer in trying new things, the last Red Hat install I did was 8.0. I'm sure there will come a day when Gentoo works it's way back onto one or more of my machines.

Posted by mike at 12:58 PM

November 17, 2004

Another Cool thing about Open Source Projects

I've had my share of arguments regarding open source vs proprietary software. There's the typical argument that with open source you can look under the hood and see what's there and while I think that is good others say that leads to potential exploits because people can see the code blah, blah, blah.

I've been watching the MySQL internals mailing list for awhile and it just ocurred to me that with MySQL, open source is actually better than being able to look under the hood and dig through the code. I can actually watch as changes are made each day and see what's being worked on. While some companies provide me with a list of new features, for MySQL I'm seeing each commit to the repository. Yea, it can be a bit much to watch each commit but I'm finding it interesting to watch the 5.0 commits to see how development on the new features is coming. Just the other day there was a commit with the documentation for triggers, a good read.

Posted by mike at 10:40 PM

November 5, 2004

At Home with MySQL Stored Procedures

It's been almost 4 years since I left the Oracle-backed Jenzabar. I didn't realize until this past week, when I started playing with MySQL 5.0.1, how much I enjoyed all the PL/SQL stored-procs I wrote for my project there.

It started this past week as I was working on an "experimental" Linux installation of our code (we're mainly Solaris). I decided to push the experimental nature of the project by installing MySQL 5.0.1 and just seeing what issues arose.

I haven't gotten to the point where there's any real data on the box just yet, but I have found that in the evenings I've been lured to playing with stored procedures, and have gotten fairly excited about calling up knowledge I haven't used for some time. Found myself thinking of the old job and the cool stuff we did in the database to simplify the interaction. Also am thinking about the Perl and PHP I've written over the years that could have (and will) utilized this.

My simple proc for tonight allows you to call with a login name and the procedure will create the entry if it doesn't exist (yea, kind of a hokey example):

DELIMITER $$

DROP PROCEDURE IF EXISTS `shopping`.`checkUserLogin`$$
CREATE PROCEDURE `shopping`.`checkUserLogin` (IN in_login varchar(20))
BEGIN
declare existing_id integer;
select id into existing_id from user where login=in_login limit 1;
IF existing_id THEN
select existing_id;
ELSE
insert into user set login=in_login;
select id from user where login = in_login;
END IF;

END$$

DELIMITER ;

Stored procedures in MySQL aren't there just yet (5.0.1 is an alpha release). It might make sense for a user to have permission to "call" a stored proc on a database they don't have permission to "use." It doesn't seem to make sense that they can drop the procedure. Will have to go poking around the bug database and see what's been submitted.

Posted by mike at 7:21 PM

November 4, 2004

44 Days of Uptime on 12" PowerBook

For the longest time I had been in the habit of shutting down my laptop for transit. Since I work in the morning from home, go to the office in the afternoon and then work a little at home in the evening this means a typical day would include three startups and three shutdowns on my laptop (I do not have a desk computer, just a laptop and a slew of servers).

Awhile back I read something about a PowerBook user having 38 days of uptime and wondered how many days I could go without powering down. Looks like it's 44.

The main reason for shutting down today is that I see three security updates, and new versions of iTunes, Java and Quicktime are waiting in the Software Update.

I poked around a bit to see if sleep mode was appropriate for travel and found mixed opinions. Seem like if I can cart this laptop around in my backpack, bumping on the floor of the subway and being tossed in the a seat on the bus for 44 days without a problem I'm pretty confident that sleep mode is ok for transport.

Posted by mike at 7:54 PM

Boston University using TUSK

After many weeks of legal work (our people getting in touch with their people) I recently met with a few technical folks from Boston University and turned over the latest production release of TUSK (Tufts University Sciences Knowledgebase), along with some hurrried documentation.

BU approached us a few months back, having seen a demo of our system and asked if we'd be willing to meet to discuss sharing our code with them. After some internal conversation, we met with the decision-makers and discussed the requirements for running our system (technical expertise, hardware, support). Part of the conversation also included an informal discussion about future collaboration, where they'd allocate development time to improving a piece of the system.

After that initial meeting, the simple process of drawing up the agreements turned into a long back and forth between legal to make sure all each school was happy with the arrangements.

The technical meeting finally got scheduled after the last piece of paper was signed. I put together a CD with a bunch of my build scripts, a snapshot of the database structure and the complete source code (99% Perl scripts and modules). In my mind the meeting would have gone long and really dug into details, but the BU folks were just anxious to get back and start looking through the code.

Part of this process is coming up with documentation on how to install TUSK for another institution. We don't see ourselves as developers of an installable product, so there's a lot of digging into code to find places that need changed. I'm trying to simplify that for the BU folks by at least providing documentation which points to places needing changed.

Posted by mike at 10:39 AM

November 3, 2004

Election Results makes for Somber Day in Boston

It's been a somber day in Boston, I didn't go into the office but talked to a few folks who said the the subway trains were unusually quiet. Can only imagine the funk in our small office where folks were hopeful to see a change in the leadership of our country. There was so much hope, now have to deal with the fact that the majority of Americans think the current situation is better than a change.

Posted by mike at 6:50 PM